The West Valley League boys’ basketball schedule was loaded this week, with all six teams playing each other on Monday, Jan. 14.
At least they should have been.
But none of those games were played. The teacher’s union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), began a strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District because of stalled contract talks that have been ongoing for two years. It is the first teacher’s strike since 1989.
The action caused the CIF Los Angeles City Section to halt the games and practices of its boys’ and girls’ sports teams until the strike is settled. At least most of them.
The West Valley League is in a unique or awkward position, depending on your perspective. Half of its teams — Birmingham, El Camino Real and Granada Hills — are now independent charter schools. Chatsworth, Cleveland, and Taft are not.
The independent charters have their own contracts with UTLA and are not part of the strike. Which means the charter teams can practice and play scheduled games against other charters, or scheduled nonleague games against a team from a different CIF section.
That isn’t making the situation feel any less complicated.
“We support the teachers,” Granada Hills Athletic Director Cristina Scotti said. “Our concern is the student-athletes, and the seedings for playoffs. We are at the heart of league play.”
Adds Rick Prizant, athletic director at Birmingham, “it’s too bad for everybody involved. We are a union school as is ECR and Granada, but we have our own contracts. I was in the strike 30 years ago, so I understand.”
Basketball is not the only winter sport. Soccer is still being played; so is water polo and wrestling. But basketball is more of a moneymaker, especially if you can go deep into the playoffs, both City and state.
All three charters have recently enjoyed various levels of success in boys’ basketball. Birmingham won the City Open Division championship in 2017. ECR reached the City Division I final in 2013 and won the Division I championship in 2014 (there was no Open Division at that time). Granada Hills reached the Division I title games against Sylmar in 2015, and Crenshaw in 2017.
All three figured in being in the various playoff pictures this season as well. But the City regular season ends on Feb. 1, and new division champions are supposed to be crowned by Feb. 23. The belief is many or all of the games could be rescheduled and made up, depending how long the strike lasts. But no one can yet say how many games could be made up and what the playoff appropriate brackets could look like.
There are going to be playoffs for the state titles. As far as what the City participation would look like, right now that’s anyone’s guess.
Maybe the charters like Birmingham, ECR and Granada Hills wind up playing each other for “asterisk” championships.
I’’m not judging the necessity or reality of the actions. But in my experience, when two sides are locked in a protracted contract fight like this one they tend to give ground slowly and use all leverage possible, while seeking and exploring any crevice that might enable one side to claim victory over the other.
There’s almost always some collateral damage. At present it’s the seniors now unable to play or practice, especially those who may not be playing next year in college and were hoping to enjoy this last go-round. Or a young team that was beginning to blossom after the early nonleague and tournament schedule, and was hoping to emerge as something unexpected and special.
That’s not all that could be lost. One thing team sports does that isn’t covered in the stats: it can provide a reason for marginal kids to stay proactive in the classroom so they can stay eligible. Players can try and arrange practices or workouts on their own. But the longer there are no structured games or practices, the greater the risk is for those marginal students to drift away.
Like I said, collateral damage. Only it’s not a concrete building or an idealized conception. It’s human beings.
Granada Hills and El Camino Real will meet on Wednesday (results were unavailable at press time). Birmingham and Granada Hills will play each other on Friday.
After that, who knows?
If the strike continues into next week…well, hold that thought until it happens.